Yesterday, Day 3 of the Olympics was the Mens Gymnastic Team Finals. Yes, the Chinese were unstoppable in winning that gold; and the Japanese came back from a making mistakes to clinch the silver. But it is the US team's unexpected win of the bronze that made it such a great event.
When the US team lost the Hamm brothers, many people doubted this team of newbies that included two alternates. None of them had ever been to an Olympics. Yet, this team of rookies managed to do the impossible, and land a spot on the podium. There was no question the Chinese with their difficult routines would win the gold. And for a while, it seemed almost possible that the Americans might win the silver. But the skilled Japanese seized the second place, while mistakes knocked the Americans down to third. The last event, the pommel horse put the Americans in a precarious situation. The first and second Americans on the pommel horse made small mistakes that threaten to knock the team off the podium. The Germans were waiting in 4th place to seize the opportunity and take 3rd.
It fell upon the last American gymnast to ensure the Americans win a medal. And this American gymnast was the wild card. He was known for his incredible talent and amazing wins; but he was just as infamous for his slips and falls. His unpredictability is what made Alexander Artemev an alternate. He didn't even know he was going to the Olympics until the last minute!
Alexander Vladimirovich "Sasha" Artemev was born in Minsk, Russia (now known as Belarus). His father Vladimir Artemev was the Soviet's all around champion in 1984; a gymnastic star whose own Olympic dreams were dashed when the Soviets protested the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics by not sending any teams. In 1994, Vladimir took his family and emigrated to the US. In 2002, they became citizens. Vladimir and his world class rhythmics gymnastic wife, Svetlana, had no idea that their son would carry the family's Olympic dreams and bring them to life.
The hopes of an American team medal were in the hands of Alexander Artemev. He climbed that pommel horse and awed the cheering crowd as he flew and danced upon the pommel horse like leaf upon the winds.
And with an amazing display of his skills, he put in a performance that saved the Americans and earned them the bronze. No longer was he the wild card and unreliable player. He was now known as a winner, the star that came through when the team needed him the most. He overcame his struggles and shined on the world stage, ending all doubts about his outstanding talents. And in the process, he made his family's Olympic dreams a reality. And that is what makes it an Olympic moment.
*UPDATE 12 Aug 08, 11:55Pm: Olympic Moment from Day 4, Tuesday.
In an amazing show of skills, Benjamin Boukpeti won the first Olympic medal for the small west African country of Togo. He also became the first black man to win a medal in this event. Born in France to a Togolese father and French mother, Benjamin Boukpeti has been to Togo only once as a baby. Until today, the majority of people in Togo have never even heard of him, much less the sport he won his bronze medal in: Kayak K1 Slalom or Whitewater kayaking. He used to represent France, coming in 18th at the Athens Olympics 4 years ago. He was injured and required surgeries on both shoulders. He recovered, but at 27 years old, he was deemed "too old" by the French team to continue in their training program! Still wanting a chance to compete, he made the decision to represent Togo, even though it meant no team support, no training structure, and no coaches to turn to for assistance. He would be alone.
With unwavering determination and sheer will, Benjamin Boukpeti battled the wild and harsh waters and won the bronze! And what a sweet victory for this athlete who never gave up, to finish 3rd, stunning his former French teammate, the silver medalist. Such was his joy that he broke his paddle when he slammed it down in exuberance when he realized he won the bronze. What an Olympic moment for an incredible athlete, who was rejected and written off as too old, to make it onto the podium and into the history books!